IT gives storage outsourcing mixed reviews

By Elizabeth M. Ferrarini

Storage services providers (SSPs), or storage outsourcers, are cropping up on almost a weekly basis. These companies provide services that go far beyond traditional off-site backup vaulting. The services range from backup operations-desktop-only, server, and real-time replication-to on-demand virtual storage utilities. For example, SSP pioneer StorageNetworks Inc. (SNI) has become a leading resource for dot.coms looking for rented IT storage infrastructures.

IT professionals, along with Wall Street investors, have taken a keen interest in storage outsourcing. However, most organ izations with capital-intensive storage infrastructures plan to keep their precious data at home rather than in a remote, electronic Tower of London, at least for now.

Glenn Jacobsen, a senior partner at the Trilliant Group, a Cincinnati-based consulting/integration services firm that helps organizations assess storage technologies, says, "We haven't seen any movement or desire from our Fortune 500 clients to outsource storage operations to an SSP." John Webster, a storage analyst with the Illuminata consulting firm, in Nashua, NH, says that a lot of organizations, regardless of their size, don't want to give up control of their data to a third party. However, all of the SSPs have plans to alleviate end-user concerns about data control, security, and privacy.

The new storage outsourcing model combines traditional systems integration tasks such as supplying and installing equipment with on-site, managed, pay-as-you-go storage. For example, starting at $35 per GB per month, Compaq will rent capacity on its Fibre Channel-based Private Storage Utility, as well as provide the internetworking infrastructure. Compaq can also administer customers' storage remotely from a management center in Colorado Springs, CO (see InfoStor, July 2000, p. 12).

Storability, a startup in Southborough, MA, is another SSP that will help architect, acquire, and configure a customer's on-site storage system and manage it remotely (see InfoStor, July 2000, p. 1).

Weighing the different outsourcing options may provide IT executives with some perspective on a nagging problem: How to mold distributed, disparate servers into a well-managed, scalable storage infrastructure.

Like a lot of insurance companies, Sun Life of Canada's Wellesley, MA, facility has given business units carte blanche to buy storage on a least-cost basis. The end result at Sun Life is a 7TB collection of about 100 Windows NT and Novell file and print servers, and about 150 development servers. Storage growth runs about 30% per year. In contrast, mainframe storage growth on an older EMC Symmetrix system remains stable, at less than 1TB.

Working with executives at Sun Life's home office in Canada, Laurence McKenzie, vice president of worldwide technology and strategy, plans to consolidate the distributed servers into a scalable enterprise storage infrastructure to be controlled by a central entity.

"We need to have better data protection for backups and disaster recovery, and we need to cut the windows for these functions," McKenzie explains.

Some of McKenzie's research has focused on storage outsourcing. "StorageNetworks did a good consulting job, helping us to understand our key storage problems," he says. "However, we aren't ready to put any storage off-site." McKenzie also evaluated Storability. He says, "Storability can leverage part of my installed base with its new storage offering. This mix would make my mature storage more reliable." However, for now, McKenzie plans to keep his storage options open.

One company that is considering storage utility services is Symbol Technologies, a $1-billion barcode system manufacturer. Tony Merolle, Symbol's senior data center manager, expects to beef up the company's storage infrastructure through some outsourcing arrangements. One plan calls for backing up the data center servers online to similar servers at a remote hot site-either owned by Symbol or maintained by a third-party SSP. Pay-as-you-go-storage also appeals to Symbol as a way to complement an 8TB EMC Sym-metrix system. Merolle says, "We're talking to vendors such as HP, Dell, and EMC about storage systems that can be configured with the amount of disk space we need at a particular time. We'd just pay for what we use."

In some cases, companies decide against outsourcing because they need to keep the storage systems closely tied to the applications, and/or because they have sufficient resources to handle burgeoning capacity and management issues. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield, in Chattanooga, TN, considered storage outsourcing, yet plans to keep its storage systems tied to its Sybase and DB2 servers. Hugh Hale, director of technical services, says he won't consider any storage outsourcing arrangements. "We have the staff to manage our database applications and storage better than anyone else," says Hale. "Outsourcing should be considered only if you can't get the resources to do it yourself."

The decision of whether or not to outsource your storage may also depend on how much storage capacity you have to manage. At Wendy's, the $5-billion fast-food chain, the corporate data center manages 550GB of storage, including 300GB of mainframe capacity. Ed Ohanian, director of enterprise technologies at Wendy's, in Dublin, OH, says, "We don't have enough storage to warrant outsourcing it. It's hardly growing, and I haven't bought any mainframe disks in 18 months."

R. R. Donnelley & Sons, the Fortune 1000 commercial printing firm based in Chicago, maintains a symbiotic relationship with its publishers. Each step of the pre-press workflow process at an R. R. Donnelley plant consists of having data readily available from on-site, high- performance storage repositories.

Kirk Brauch, a corporate technology consultant, says, "When we go to put ink on paper, time is of the essence. Taking the storage outside of a plant's control would put us in a bad position. How would we meet a publisher's requirements if something goes wrong? We'd be dead in the water."

The reluctance of large organizations to embrace storage outsourcing has not deterred storage integrators such as Integrated Archives, in Palo Alto, CA, from expanding beyond merely delivering equipment and installing it. Amy Rao, Integrated Archives' founder and president, says that later this year her firm plans to start managing customers' SANs. "We'll be offering both hands-on services and remote monitoring services," says Rao.

Although it's a very conservative first step, storage outsourcing for a Web site or remote desktop backups relieves IT staff of time-consuming administrative tasks. For example, mobile and telecommuting employees at both Kemper Insurance and Schlumberger back up their PCs and laptops over the Internet to servers at Connected Corp., in Natick, MA. At Wendy's, Ohanian says he will consider outsourcing desktop backup, provided it can be done for less money and with a better guarantee compared to in-house backup.

With about 46TB of midrange storage and 5TB of mainframe storage, Aetna Insurance, in Hartford, CT, has the resources to host and manage all of its Web-based solutions. However, John Brighton, Aetna's chief information officer, says he would consider storage outsourcing for unique applications, such as e-commerce.

Regardless of end-user reluctance to outsource storage, industry analysts are predicting a robust market. For example, Dataquest expects the pay-as-you-go storage utility market to grow from $10 million in 1999 to about $8 billion in 2003. And International Data Corp. predicts that storage utility spending will exceed $4.8 billion by 2003.

Elizabeth M. Ferrarini is a freelance writer in Arlington, MA.

IT execs provide storage outsourcing tips

Some CIOs and CTOs may shun storage outsourcing, but they don't mind giving a few words of advice to companies that are considering that route.

John Brighton-chief information officer, Aetna Insurance:

"Define very precisely your requirements in terms of availability, reliability, and services."

"Make sure you place your environment in the hands of a company that has both the technical and financial strengths to be there for the long haul, and that is flexible enough to change with you."

Hugh Hale-director of technical services, Blue Cross Blue Shield:

"Don't just meet the service provider's staff; get their resumes and review their qualifications."

"Service-level agreements should focus on application reliability and response time."

Jonathan Harper-CTO, Funds Express Financial Network:

"Get all schedules for administrative tasks, such as backups, written into your contract. For example, are they going to perform and verify nightly backups, or do incremental backups during the week and full backups on the weekends?"

"For storage on demand, forecast your capacity needs by time periods, and give the schedule to the service provider so it can start planning its space allocation."

"The real cost of outsourcing storage goes beyond the dollars per gigabyte. Factor in how much it's going to cost your staff to oversee the service."

For more information on storage services providers (SSPs) and storage outsourcing, see the following articles:

"CreekPath enters SSP arena,"
August 2000, p. 12.

"SSPs bring new service models,"
July 2000, p. 1.

"Storage utilities show promise,"
May 2000, p.1.

"Storage utilities: The next disruptive
technology," April 2000, p. 52.

"SNI receives additional financing,"
March 2000, p. 10.

This article was originally published on September 01, 2000